A Quilt of Many Colors
Agriculturally speaking, farmers have a deep tie to many of the cultural aspects that make North Carolina a great place to be. And speaking in terms of popular culture, Vance County Farm Bureau Member Debbie “Miss Lou” Powell says there are two reasons that people quilt these days. “We quilt to leave part of us behind when we go and we quilt as a creative outlet,” she says. “No one quilts for warmth anymore.”
For Powell, quilting is something she does out of love for the quilt itself, but also for the love of teaching. “It was not in my plan to be a teacher; that was God’s plan. I never knew I was a teacher, but I love it.”
Three years ago Powell opened Miss Lou’s Quilting Studio to offer a place where people could come and share their love of quilting. Today, it’s grown into a network of quilters ranging from the newest beginners to people who have been quilting for years.
“I wanted a place where people could come and be together and enjoy the camaraderie of quilting,” Powell says. “I wanted a place to promote the art of quilting through teaching and offer a place for people to finish their quilts they’ve had sitting around.”
Powell noticed the need for a quilt finishing studio after people started bringing in quilt blocks they had found or had been passed down to them.
“Some of them are very old, and very valuable,” she says. “So they’ll bring them in and we’ll help them finish them.”
Powell finishes quilts for people and teaches them how to finish quilts themselves. She even rents out her mid-arm quilting machine for visitors who want to finish large quilts.
Powell says quilting is a very personal hobby for those involved. Memory quilts are popular among avid quilters and those who have never had an interest in quilts before as a way to preserve someone or something that meant a great deal to them.
“It’s not always about pretty, colorful fabric,” Powell says. “You can make a quilt from anything that means something to you.”
She points to a quilt that was made by one of her older relatives. The quilt is made entirely from clothing labels. Powell speculates that the relative worked in a shop or factory where she saw those labels every day and made a quilt of them as a way to remember that part of her life.
She also recalls the story of a mother who had recently lost her young daughter and brought in scraps of her clothes for Powell to piece together into a quilt.
“It was a way for her to preserve that memory,” Powell says.
“My grandmother was really into quilting, but she would always quilt with big squares and have a lot of scraps left over,” Bailey says. “She was going to throw them away, but I said I’d take them and do something with them.”
Since then, Bailey has turned those fabric scraps into patchworked pieces of art.
“I love using old scraps,” she says. “It will mean something to my kids when they have children and they can say that their great-grandmother had these scraps that make up this quilt.”
For Bailey, as well as many other families, quilting is a craft that spans generations. “My grandmother and I loved to work on quilts. She always loved to see what I was working on, and I liked to see what she was working on.”
And it was a family affair. Her grandmother would piece together quilt tops, and Bailey and two of her aunts would finish quilting them by hand. “We would get together to quilt it for her. I was always amazed to watch how fast my aunts could quilt by hand. I hope I can be that fast one day.”
But no matter how much time and effort go into making a quilt, for Bailey, it’s all about the quilt having meaning.
“With a quilt I made for my nephew, I told him to drag it across the floor and love on it,” she says. “Let it have meaning.”